Bloomfield gets its turn to become new hot spot

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Stability has been one of Bloomfield's strengths. During the East End's worst years of blight and crime, Bloomfield went about its business while other neighborhoods got triage.

The drawback was being ignored.

Lawrenceville, Garfield and East Liberty came out of the mire with high-capacity staffs of community development nonprofits, while the Bloomfield Development Corp. morphed out of a merchants' association with one staff person, Karla Owens, who left in 2012.

Now the Bloomfield Development Corp. is coming around the track on the inside, ready to assert the neighborhood's presence with six years of funding, a new executive director and positive trends afoot.

Shelly Majcen, a former city planner, took the reins last Monday with $600,000 in funding over six years through the state's Neighborhood Partnership Program, which offers tax credits to private investors for their funding commitments.

David Feehan, who served as a part-time interim director for the development corporation, said the funding "confirms and solidifies the future of the BDC."

The corporation also received $38,500 in community development block grants from the city.

"Things are looking up," said Joe Vallarian, development corporation board president. "The BDC had become somewhat stagnant and was almost nonexistent after Karla left. Now we have a great, diverse board, a direction and goals. We're moving toward being a meaningful CDC like Mount Washington's and Lawrenceville's. We want to effect the kind of change in our neighborhood that they've been able to do in theirs."

For the first time in two years, sponsors came forward to pay for Christmas street decorations on Liberty. On Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m., merchants will offer discounts in a holiday shop walk sponsored by the Bloomfield Development Corp.

Mr. Feehan, who expects to stay on as a consultant and adviser, said that Ms. Majcen, with her planning background, is "a huge asset. Not much gets done these days without public-private partnerships. Shelly understands how that works and she has a passion for Bloomfield."

Ms. Majcen's love for the neighborhood began when she visited her brother who was in college here and lived in the neighborhood.

"It was 1996, and I was 16," she said. "I was driving on Penn Avenue, this rural kid from central Pennsylvania, and it was so impressive. When I came here to go to Point Park [University], I had an apartment on South Pacific Avenue."

With a degree in public administration, Ms. Majcen supported herself as a waitress and bartender and interned at the city's emergency management agency. After receiving her master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked as an emergency management planner under contract with the Department of Homeland Security for the PA Region 13 counter-terrorism task force.

She was hired as a city planner in 2008 and Bloomfield was one of her assigned neighborhoods. It was her favorite. "There was no place I didn't enjoy," she said, "but I wouldn't have left planning for any other neighborhood."

In the next month, Ms. Majcen said she hopes to have a full-time office manager and a part-time special events coordinator to help launch two priority projects -- a monthly Saturday market and a senior housing plan. She also wants to work on facade and infrastructure initiatives to make Bloomfield look as loved as it is.

The Saturday market on a lot beside Alexander's Italian Bistro should be underway by May, she said. It will include buskers and food but also draw on a partnership with the Allegheny Health Network and organizations such as Grow Pittsburgh and BikePGH to bring urban farmers to sell their produce, programming around bicycles, and medical screenings.

The senior housing plan will identify elderly residents' homes that are in need of repairs and upgrades and determine the need for new construction for those who require one-story apartments and elevators.

Kathy McKenzie, a member of the development corporation's board and vice president of community affairs at the Allegheny Health Network, said the focus on senior housing meshes with West Penn Hospital's role in the national movement toward home-based hospital care.

At the same time, Bloomfield is going through a youth movement, she said. A planning meeting about parks was held at West Penn Hospital, she said, "and there must have been 50 hipster kids who came out."

Mr. Feehan said Bloomfield's whole dynamic "seems to be shifting. It's what funders want, it's what the city wants and it's what Bloomfield needs."

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at

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